Legislators on Thursday introduced a flurry of bills that aim to ease the growing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, with a number of protections and new regulations that would impact cannabis consumers and businesses in California.
Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, though medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and recreational cannabis is allowed in eight. So while state law says Californians can now smoke weed and give some to a friend, they still risk criminal prosecution by federal authorities and can be denied benefits such as subsidized housing. Business owners also face federal raids and can’t access most banking services or claim standard tax deductions. And researchers have a tough time getting access to study cannabis.
Oregon Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer aim to change all of that in one fell swoop with the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a package of bills introduced Thursday in both houses. Also included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
The bills would remove marijuana from a national registry of controlled substances and add a slew of new protections for consumers and industry workers. Wyden said that should spur industry growth and investment, which have been hampered by the looming threat of a federal crackdown – made more imminent once marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions became Attorney General.
The bills would also create a new federal tax on all cannabis products that would start at 10 percent and escalate to 25 percent. And marijuana businesses would be required to get federal permits to operate, with new rules on advertising, labeling and more.
Most policies in the bills have been proposed in some form before, though they’ve never gotten past initial committee hearings. And that was before Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate.
But Wyden and Blumenauer pointed out in a joint statement that public support for cannabis legalization has never been higher, with the Democrats’ package of bills drawing early support from both sides of the aisle.
Here are six ways the federal bills would impact Californians and residents in other legal weed states if they become law.
1. Add criminal protections: Federal agents could no longer arrest people who are complying with their state’s cannabis laws and slap them with fines or jail time. The feds also couldn’t raid state-legal pot shops and seize their assets. No one could be deported or denied entry to the country for consuming weed in state where it’s legal. And Native American tribes would be protected from punishment under federal marijuana laws.
2. Open bank access: Banks and credit card companies that handle marijuana funds would get immunity from federal criminal charges. That should help the industry move away from operating all in cash, since financial institutions would no longer have to worry about being penalized for money laundering if they take on cannabis clients.
3. Remove obstacles for research: A new process would make it easier for researchers to study medical marijuana by reducing approval wait times, costly security measures and layers of review that experts say stifle the number and quality of studies now taking place. And once researchers get approval, it would be easier for them to access marijuana for use in their studies. That should increase the volume of rigorous trials involving cannabis.
4. Eliminate tax restrictions: Marijuana retailers would be able to claim tax deductions and credits like any other business. That’s because the bills would make an exception for marijuana in IRS tax rule 280E, which says businesses dealing in Schedule I or II substances can’t write off common expenses such as rent, utilities or advertising. That should save businesses significant money each year.
5. Clear criminal records: Anyone with a federal charge for a marijuana-related activity that was legal in their state at the time or who was charged with possessing an ounce or less of marijuana could petition to have their records cleared. California’s Proposition 64 included a similar provision, though it could only apply to state charges.
6. Allow for federal benefits: People in legal weed states could no longer be drug tested for marijuana when applying for a federal job or denied access to subsidized housing. College students couldn’t be turned down for financial aid because they have minor marijuana offenses on their record. And health care workers at Veterans Affairs clinics could recommend medical marijuana to veterans.
Staff writer Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.